2019 NBA Free Agency: Predictions for Top Stars Expected to Hit the Market

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2019

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 10: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Phoenix Suns at ORACLE Arena on March 10, 2019 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Compared to last season, when LeBron James was the top name leading up to the NBA's free-agency period, this season doesn't figure to see as much of a seismic shift in the landscape.

But that doesn't mean it isn't as interesting.

This year features some big names of its own: Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.

With players of this caliber hitting the market, it's hard to keep them out of the news cycle, especially considering multiple teams freed up enough cap space to make their sales pitches with hopes of landing one or maybe even two of them.

                               

Free-Agency Predictions

Kawhi Leonard

Leonard can be a free agent this summer by opting out of the player option in his contract.

The former two-time Defensive Player of the Year is an intriguing case because he's in his first year with the Toronto Raptors, and they will desperately want to retain him.

Leonard has been asked about his impending free agency, of course, but he's not given anything away.

"I'm not thinking about that," he told Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com back in January. "I'm focused on right now, what this is bringing for me and focused on the opportunity that I have here and what we can do this season. Later down the road, that's when I'll make my decision."

Leonard's not talking, but he's in the same boat that Paul George was in last year.

Like George, he's a native Californian, so speculation had it that he was headed to Los Angeles. That ultimately led to the idea that he would join LeBron James and the Lakers.

But those thoughts have been dashed because numerous source have reported that Leonard's not interested in joining up with James, such as ESPN's Michael C. Wright on Brian Windhorst's podcast.

So that leaves the Clippers, who have positioned themselves as a willing landing spot, having revamped the team and shipping out Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris to get under the cap.

The fact that Leonard recently bought a 13,000 square foot home worth $13.3 million in Rancho Santa Fe, California really has the Raptors on edge, but general manager Masai Ujiri still believes Toronto's season-long sales pitch will end in their favor.

"I believe just from getting to know Kawhi very, very well and more, that he will make the right decision," Ujiri said on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.

Ultimately, the Oklahoma City Thunder's gamble paid off and George re-signed. But in Leonard's case, his heart is still in L.A.

Prediction: Leornard signs with Clippers

                         

Kyrie Irving

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 18:  Isaiah Thomas #0 of the Denver Nuggets and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics chat before the game thon March 18, 2019 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

It's been a rocky marriage between the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving.

Irving has been hurt, and there's been a rift with the other players who stepped up in his absence to get the team within one game of making the NBA Finals.

Then there's his upcoming free agency. Irving's name has been linked with the New York Knicks, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

Unlike Leonard, Irving has been up and down with the media, even reaching his boiling point last month.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what's best for me and my career," Irving told reporters. "I don't owe anyone s--t."

Irving realized he had made a mistake and admitted as much to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

"The way I've handled things, it hasn't been perfect. I've made a lot of mistakes that I take full responsibility for. I apologize. I haven't done it perfectly. I haven't said the right things all the time. I don't want to sit on a place like I'm on a pedestal from anybody. I'm a normal human being that makes mistakes. For me, I think because of how fixated I was on trying to prove other people wrong, I got into a lot of habits that were bad, like reading stuff and reacting emotionally. That's just not who I am."

Irving hasn't been perfect, but he's still been great on the court, which is why New York is still calling.

He could sign with the Lakers because he mended fences with James, but Irving has always been drawn to the East coast.

If Boston doesn't find a way to get him to stay, he's not likely to bolt for the West.

Prediction: Irving signs with Knicks

                              

Kevin Durant

Durant is the best player in this free-agency class and it's not even close.

He already ruffled feathers with his decision to sign with Golden State, so he's exercising extreme caution as the summer approaches.

The rub against Durant, despite the fact that he's won two championships and back-to-back Finals MVP awards, is that he took the easy way out.

So if he does leave the Warriors, he'll be looking to go to a team where he'll make his own legacy if he wins it all.

The Lakers don't qualify, but the Clippers do. It's no secret that Durant loves L.A., as he spends the bulk of his time there in the offseason. But it's a tall order to get him to sign with the Clips.

Zillgitt reported that Durant could head to the Knicks, and with good reason. Not only do they have the cap space, they have the cachet.

If Durant were to bring New York back to prominence, he'd be the darling of the NBA again.

The cherry on top is that he could be joined by his good friend Irving, and they could form the kind of superstar duo that could bring the Knicks back to relevance.

And if the Knicks were to somehow be in a position to draft Zion Williamson, too? That would be perfect.

Prediction: Kevin Durant signs with Knicks

        

Follow Maurice Bobb on Twitter, @ReeseReport

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